Beer, a living concoction of yeast, water and subtle flavors, is as old as civilization and is the third most consumed beverage in the world. From light, pale lagers to heavy, dark-as-the-night stouts and porters, beer comes in every form imaginable, limited only by the brewer’s imagination. With the rise of popularity in the production and origin of all things food in the past decade, beer has become a bit of a monster in its own right, changing from more than simply a drink to an art to be nourished and coaxed along until what remains becomes the fingerprint of the brewer responsible for its birth.
In Ventura, a growing coalition of home brewers are making their presence known by forming a network, sharing recipes and offering tastings to friends and family, all in hopes of perfecting their passion. For Al Trevisan, a local Ventura resident and firefighter, converting his garage into a small-scale brewery or nanobrewery is his goal.
“I enjoy brewing and making beer more than I enjoy drinking beer,” said Trevisan, his backyard alive with Meyer lemon trees, a small playground and a trellis hosting his own small Cascade hop vines, which will eventually produce enough hops — an essential ingredient in many beer recipes — to use in his own concoctions. “To me, being able to pass it out to friends and see their reaction is the best.”
Trevisan brought his DeadHead Red, an India red ale, to the Southern California Homebrewing Festival (SCHF) at Lake Casitas this past weekend. As a member of VIBE (Ventura Independent Beer Enthusiasts), Trevisan was able to demonstrate his technique and personal touches while representing the city he lives in.
“It’s hard to be around a group of people who enjoy good beer and not have a good time.”
With hundreds of homemade beers to sample, the SCHF demonstrated just how varied and popular beer making has become. From small, one-man operations like Trevisan’s to larger productions such as Ladyface Alehouse in Agoura Hills, a broad range of styles were sampled from all over the county and beyond.
But it isn’t all about drinking. Rather, these brewers find more in common with scientists than guests at a fraternity kegger.
Brewing is more akin to baking bread than it is to making a sandwich. Inside any given bottle or mug of beer, there exists a living biological entity known as yeast, a brewer’s best friend. Yeast gives the finished product its depth of character and also produces the alcohol as a byproduct. In unfiltered beers — many of which are produced by microbreweries and can be found on store shelves — a thin layer of yeast can be found at the bottom of the bottle, which crafty homebrewers can harvest to clone their favorite brews.
Trevisan’s brewing station consists of three 15-gallon former kegs, converted into boiling kettles after removing the steel tops. After the water is brought to a boil, Trevisan adds grain in the second kettle, and then the hops as called for by any particular recipe. In the third kettle, the “wort” — the sweet water produced from the grain — is quickly cooled. From the temperature of the water to the amount of barley used, all depends upon the style of beer aimed for, and must be as precise as possible.
“It’s a blending of art and science. There’s a lot of creativity that goes into it,” said Trevisan. “I think a lot of homebrewers see themselves as artists and ask, ‘What can I do to make this better?’”
Trevisan hosts tastings and parties where his beer is the star, sampled out to his friends and family all the while earning nothing but gratitude in return. His ultimate goal, however, is to see Two Trees Brewing on tap at local restaurants alongside breweries that claim to be local.
“I love Firestone, but I think it’s kind of funny when they call themselves a local beer. It’s not really local; it’s two and a half hours away.”
With a large population and enough space that one could potentially be downtown and then in the mountains within minutes, Ventura has both the people and space to host its own local brewery, but surprisingly, there are none that distribute locally. Anacapa Brewing Company serves beer made on the premises, but doesn’t distribute. Trevisan believes that will change with the arrival of Surf Brewery, the first of its kind in the county producing bottled microbrewed beer as well as supplies for homebrewers.
As for his product, Trevisan has the will but is unable to step up into full-scale nanobrewery production. While federal and state laws deal only with taxes, local city laws abide by zoning requirements that keep Trevisan and his peers from bottling and selling their own brew from within their homes, garages included.
This hasn’t stopped Trevisan from crafting beers rich in flavor and originality — such as his O’Quaker’s oatmeal stout, a dark, balanced beer with subtle flavors of chocolate and fruit suitable for foggy Ventura nights, or his Pixie Wheat a wheat beer brewed with Pixie tangerine juice and zest.
“The only thing that can limit you is your creativity and your imagination. Maybe it won’t work, maybe your cranberry lemon tastes awful,” said Trevisan. “It’s limitless, it really is.”
National Home Brewing day is Saturday, May 7. Two Trees Brewing can be found on Facebook. For further information about local homebrewers, visit venturaindependentbeerenthusiasts.blogspot.com.